July 21, 2022

How to Evaluate a System’s Architecture

Choosing a system architecture for your digital product is not a decision to be taken lightly. After all, your platform design sets the stage for your product development and maturation. To that end, it must support every function of your product, particularly concerning your overall goals, operations, workflows, and outcomes.

However, don’t let the process of choosing and evaluating the right design for your product derail you. To start, if the term “system architecture” is new to you, Geeks For Geeks defines it as “a conceptual model that describes the structure and behavior of multiple components.” Ultimately, the structure supports your digital product and ensures it works correctly to deliver value for your audience.

By evaluating system architecture prior to build, you can determine whether or not your system architecture is right for your product. You can also get a feel for whether or not it’s a good solution long term. That is not to suggest that you should completely design your system before you know what will happen or not, a problem known as “big design up front.” On the contrary. Simon Brown clarifies that it’s “about creating a starting point, and setting a direction for the team.”

To maintain a product mindset when evaluating product performance, 3Pillar Global recommends considering your product roadmap and plans for maturation. Allowing for this step, you can continue iterating and minimizing time to value for future releases. But how do you go about evaluating it?

Why the right system architecture matters

Because software performance evaluations are time intensive, it can be tempting to make quick decisions based on assumptions. However, this can turn into a costly mistake.

According to the Software Engineering Institute at Carnegie Mellon University, “Maintenance and improvement costs represent more than half the total cost of a system, a percentage that has grown steadily since 1960.”

Choosing a product design that doesn’t support ongoing iteration drives those costs even higher, as your next release may require additional platform modernization. To that end, outdated architecture may mean you’ll need to rebuild your product on a new system architecture.

A minimum viable architecture (MVA) applies the principles of a minimum viable product (MVP) to the entire platform design. In other words, your MVA allows you maximum agility to maximize your product roadmap amidst a changing marketplace.

Methods for evaluating system architecture

A variety of methods allow you to evaluate your system architecture. The Software Engineering Institute developed three that have been widely adopted:

  • ATAM: Architecture Tradeoff Analysis Method
  • SAAM: Software Architecture Analysis Method
  • ARID: Active Reviews for Intermediate Designs

Additional methods exist as well. However, for the purposes of your digital product, minimize your time to value and choose the simplest evaluation method possible.

According to Science Direct, “Architecture evaluation activities consist(ed) of three stages.”

Stage 1: Pre-Evaluation Questionnaire

This phase is all about identifying key attributes and requirements, decisions about designs, and risks of the system architecture. The pre-evaluation questionnaire sets everyone up to evaluate software performance according to the same metrics.

Stage 2: Method Presentation and Evaluation

The presentation and evaluation stage allows different stakeholders to evaluate the system architecture against the questions in stage 1 in addition to their own perspectives and prospective integrations.

Stage 3: Post-Evaluation Discussion

After the first two stages, stakeholders reconvene to make a final decision. Each stage can go relatively quickly if every stakeholder is engaged and present. In terms of time, a full analysis takes only a few months.

System architecture evaluation findings

3Pillar Global recommends completing a software performance evaluation early in the product development process and at key decision junctures. These performance evaluations help ensure system attributes suit your requirements. It also helps your team avoid erroneous costly development decisions.

Findings and outputs depend on the evaluation method your team selects. However, key factors and questions to evaluate against include:

  • Performance & Reliability: Does your system run as predicted? Is it sufficiently fast?
  • Modifiable: Can you update or modify your system based on future iterations?
  • Security: Does your system meet or surpass security requirements?
  • Functionality: Does your system work as required?

The final question to ask your team is whether or not your system can be built with the available resources. If you answer “no” to any of these questions, it’s a sign to revisit your system architecture.

Evaluating your system architecture is not optional

The bottom line: your system architecture must support your product. Therefore, it’s necessary to evaluate whether or not your platform is sufficient for your needs. Doing so ensures that your product works well and planned future releases function properly without significant platform modification. By taking time to evaluate now and at key junctures, you can minimize costly revisions and time to value.

3Pillar Global uses a proven process for evaluating system architecture to ensure that your digital products are supported by robust platforms designed for optimal performance. Contact us today to start developing your digital product.

Special thanks to these members of FORCE, 3Pillar’s expert network, for their contributions to this article.

FORCE is 3Pillar Global’s Thought Leadership Team comprised of technologists and industry experts offering their knowledge on important trends and topics in digital product development.